‘Dark’ times for Baby Boks

SA lock JF van Heerden (No 5) scored the opening try for the Junior Springboks against Australia yesterday. BackpagePix

SA lock JF van Heerden (No 5) scored the opening try for the Junior Springboks against Australia yesterday. BackpagePix

Published May 8, 2024


Ashfak Mohamed

Junior Springbok coach Bafana Nhleko cut a frustrated figure after watching his team slip to a 24-19 defeat to Australia in the Under-20 Rugby Championship yesterday.

In their opening match at the Sunshine Coast Stadium in Bokarina, Queensland, last week, the South Africans drew 13-13 with New Zealand, and were hoping to push for the title by beating the hosts yesterday.

But in another match played in slippery conditions following heavy downpours before and during the encounter, the Junior Boks wasted a number of attacking opportunities to go down and end their title quest as they prepare for the World Rugby Under-20 Championship in Cape Town and Stellenbosch from June 29-July 19.

A 21st-minute red card to loosehead prop Mbasa Maqubela for a dangerous ruck clean-out made matters worse, although the 20-minute red-card trial helped the South Africans get back into game and even take a 14-10 lead in the second half following tries by captain JF van Heerden and wing Litelihle Bester.

But despite making some serious inroads into the Aussie defence, with lock Bathobele Hlekani producing some powerful carries, the Junior Boks ultimately had themselves to blame for the defeat.

“It’s a bit dark at the moment. Lots of opportunities ... It’s probably our skill-set in looking after the ball (that cost us victory), just wasn’t up to it,” Nhleko said during the post-match press conference.

“Perhaps our decision-making around our set-piece wasn’t up to it, when we got into the right areas as well.

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“The frustration more than anything else is just that we got ourselves into the right places, which was our big thing from the previous game, and from there it was about execution and just getting into our system.

“If your set-piece doesn’t function in Test rugby, you pretty much have no chance, really. We had two line-outs in their 22 and didn’t convert.

“We have to go back and look at the video and really understand what was going on in the scrums; clearly we didn’t get the ascendancy, which was something we hoped to do today.”

The Junior Boks complete their tournament against Argentina at the same venue on Sunday, with New Zealand and Australia squaring off as well to determine the winners.

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